Ted belongs to one of my clients. I love Ted. And his owners love Ted. They care immensely about him. They are good people.
When I first met Ted he was around 8 or 10months old and already having a lot of problems.
Primarily it boiled down a lot to Ted wanted to be a dog. A really doggie dog dog. Like run the woods, muck in the swamp, roll in dead stuff, chew bones, walk on the floor, chase balls, doggie dog dog.
And Ted’s owners wanted Ted to be the shih tzu they’ve always had. For decades. The shih tzu who likes to be brushed and picked up and petted and snuggled upon and be that quintessential lap dog they’ve had. Dog after dog. For decades.
Which Ted is not. Ted wants to be a german shepherd I think. Or maybe a doberman. Yea probably a doberman, something that doesn’t need much grooming. And that people think twice about before they get all lovey dovey fru fru in your face with.
Ted has always wanted to be a doggie dog dog. But also didn’t really know how to be that, since he’d not really had much opportunity to. So he was/is pretty socially weird. As my husband says, “Ted is the bug eyed micro wookie” and yea, I think that pretty well sums up Ted in a nut shell.
So that’s a little about Ted’s back story.
Ted’s owners took lessons and classes with me, but for a long time were still pretty stuck on the ‘we really want Ted to be more like the shih tzu we imagine. If we’d wanted a german shepherd, we would have gotten a german shepherd.’ When I stoppped teaching though I didn’t want to stop seeing Ted. Also, by then Ted trusted me enough to let me touch him and wash gunk out of his face, which after being kicked out of 3 grooming salons for his poor behavior was no small feat. And his owners were struggling to find someone else who would take the time Ted needed to build trust the way he needed.
So Ted’s owners and I agreed, I’d continue to see Ted. And ever since Ted spends usually at least 2 days a week here. He loves his ‘school’ days. And his owners have really come on board with Ted’s need to be a doggie dog dog over the past year. Makes me so happy. Like they now see Ted’s shaved down utilitarian hair cut as cute and adorable. Which is good because, Ted is so much happier with short fur and it’s the only cut I’m willing to give him (since Ted and I have a deal: I only do stuff that makes him feel better. Short hair cut makes him feel better. So shaved down short hair cut it is). And they have embraced that if Ted doesn’t get to go run in the woods, and walk for miles, and muck about twice a week he is miserable to live with. So they make sure he gets here twice a week. His vet report notes even now mention things about how much easier he is to treat and handle and how much he now tolerates, Ted used to get vet reports that included how many people it took to hold him down and how much they tried to sedate him with. Which is really good, because when you are a bug eyed micro wookie who wants to spend his life running around outside, you apparently end up with allergies and eye issues.
But that’s not what this story about Ted today is.
Today’s Ted story is: Ted now plays with other dogs!!!! I mean like happy, socially appropriate run and chase and be silly play!!
This has taken a year. Ok, well Ted is now 3 so really it’s taken 3 years. But it has taken a year of consistent 2+ times a week social interactions and trust building with the dogs he regularly is with here for him to decide it was safe to really let his inner awesome fun dog out to play with the other dogs.
Up to this point, Ted’s version of ‘play’ was really all about control. Making other dogs start or stop doing things. There was always an element of fear and mistrust in it for him. The humans always always had to be cognizant and aware of Ted’s mental state when other dogs were playing. Up to this point, Ted liked the other dogs enough to snuggle up and take naps with. Or to chew toys lying next to. But more than that, anything movement related he’d either avoid or try to control.
Now, this has now happened multiple times over the past couple of weeks, Ted is having fun with play! Chasing with Rock-It for example without trying to control her, chasing with her for the joy of it. Reciprocating play bows to then race around the deck with Zora. Smiling, happy, relaxed playing Ted is awesome! It makes me so happy to see!
When I think about what triggered his final turn around when it came to the other dogs, I think a situation between him and Zora that happened sometime last month was part of the catalyst to change. Last month, Zora was chewing on a bone Ted apparently wanted. So he decided to try going after her and ‘biting’ her to get her to give it to him. I put ‘biting’ in quotes because remember Ted is a shih tzu. He has a very smushed in face. And his attempt was to ‘bite’ Zora’s side. So because he’s a shih tzu with a pushed in face, all that resulted was him smashing his face into Zora’s side a couple of times, his ‘bite’ not actually doing anything. To which Zora looked at him puzzled, then looked at me puzzled, “What on earth is he doing??” A couple of angry face smashes without the desired result, Ted stopped, looked at me, looked at Zora and went, “Why isn’t this working? That’s weird. Doesn’t she know I’m fierce and ferocious and a threat? Why isn’t anyone upset by this? Hmmm” then he walked away. (I was right there less than a foot away this entire time. Had anything escalated further or Zora seemed upset in any way I would have of course interrupted and created safety and boundaries. The above all played out in less than probably 30 seconds)
I think maybe that gave him all something to think about. Maybe it was the last piece of the puzzle he needed to decide it was worth the risk to see if dogs really were safe and friendly to let loose and play with. Maybe Zora and I not getting upset at his attempt at an ‘attack’ helped him embrace that no one here is a threat. I don’t know. I don’t know what goes on in that mind of his. I do know that shortly after that incident, Ted’s attitude toward the other dogs relaxed a lot and really started to shift. And now he plays. Even with rambunctious goofy Labradors like my friend’s dog Rock-It.
How ever he came to it, I’m so glad he’s decided play with the other dogs is worth it. I love seeing Ted so happy and free. Makes me happy.